SANTIAGO • With the country in an uproar over the brutal rape and death of a 20-month-old toddler, Chile's President Sebastian Pinera has backed plans to lift the statute of limitations on sex crimes against minors.
The move came just days after 20-month-old Ambar was taken to a hospital in the central Los Andes region by her aunt and legal guardian, who claimed she had fallen off a bed.
But medics who examined her quickly realised the toddler had been raped, with the paediatrician telling Chile's La Tercera daily he had "never" seen such levels of abuse in his 18 years of experience.
Despite undergoing immediate surgery, she did not survive, in a case of brutality which has badly shaken conservative Chile, sparking calls for a return of the death penalty.
The alleged perpetrator is believed to be the aunt's partner, who has been arrested on suspicion of "rape and murder".
As the toddler was being laid to rest at an anguished ceremony in central Chile, Mr Pinera signed off on a draft law to drop the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse against minors.
The move went further than expected, following reports that he would set a 30-year time limit for bringing legal action after such crimes. Under the current legislation, there is a five-or 10-year statute of limitations on sexual abuse involving children, which varies according to the nature of the crime.
"Our children who have been sexually abused have the right to a defence in order to obtain justice and prevent the passing of time... becoming a real accessory in favour of impunity," Mr Pinera said.
The draft law will be brought before Chile's lower House of Congress with "extreme urgency", he said.
Among those present as he signed the document was Dr James Hamilton, who was abused by Chilean paedophile priest Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and 1990s.
Although the priest was forced into retirement in 2011 after being found by the Holy See to have been a serial abuser of minors, the victims were unable to pursue a criminal case against him in Chile because the statute of limitations had expired.
"It's a miracle... a gift for our country," Dr Hamilton told reporters of the draft law, visibly moved. "They won't regret it. This will bring social peace."
He recently travelled to the Vatican, along with two other victims, for talks with Pope Francis about the extent of abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in Chile.
Last year, there were 22,540 complaints about sexual abuse, with children and teenagers the main victims, figures from the state prosecutor's office show.